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Hollywood comes to Capitol Hill to push for Social Security bill

Legislation would allow gay couples to access benefits



Hal Sparks speaking at the Social Security equality press conference (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Los Angeles congresswoman beamed in support from Hollywood on Thursday to spread the word about legislation she introduced in the U.S. House to end inequities that same-sex couples face in the Social Security system.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said her legislation, the Social Security Equality Act, would allow gay families to gain access to the same survivor and pension benefits available to opposite-sex couples.

“The gay and lesbian population will not be told by their government that they are second-class citizens,” Sánchez said. “Same-sex couples pay into Social Security — they should receive the full benefits they have earned.”

Sánchez’s bill, H.R. 4609, would eliminate the Social Security Administration policy denying same-sex couples benefits. According to Sánchez, gay male couples receive 18 percent less in Social Security benefits than straight couples, while lesbian couples receive 31 percent less because women statistically earn less money.

Four types of Social Security benefits are denied to same-sex couples: spousal retirement benefits after one spouse retires; disability benefits if one spouse becomes disabled; survivor’s benefits, which allow surviving spouses to claim either their own Social Security benefit or an amount equal to the compensation that would have been afforded to their deceased spouse; and the death benefit, which provides for burial expenses.

The legislation, which was previously introduced in 2010, has 95 co-sponsors: all Democrats. The four openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — have all signed on in support.

Celebrities appeared at the news conference to advocate for the legislation alongside the lawmakers and LGBT advocates. Supporters carried signs reading “Outlaw Social Security Discrimination” and “Stop Economic Violence Against LGBT Seniors.” One sign was a mock Social Security card with “same-sex couples” written in the line allotted for a name.

George Takei (left) and his spouse Brad Altman (Blade photo by Michael Key)

George Takei, famed for his role as “Mr. Sulu” in the “Star Trek” series, appeared with his spouse, Brad Altman, and decried the hardship that same-sex couples face because of inequities in the Social Security system as “unfair and unjust.”

“There are same-sex couples who are denied equality often when misfortune befalls same-sex couples,” Takei said. “One falls ill, or tragically one might pass away. A survivor is left not only grieving, but financially insecure — and often the home they’ve built together, shared together is lost.”

Hal Sparks, known for his role as “Michael” in Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” also spoke out against the current system for putting LGBT seniors in a position that is “not only emotionally difficult, but financially or physically dangerous.”

“It is odd for me, at this very moment, that as the law stands, I have rights that many of the people who are standing behind me, to my right and my left, do not have,” Sparks said. “If the law is not changed, they are headed toward a future that is more limited, more fractured and, quite frankly, more dangerous than mine.”

Another speaker at the event felt the discrimination under the current Social Security system firsthand. Alice Herman, from Los Angeles, a spokesperson for the grassroots group “Rock for Equality,” talked about the difficulties she faced after losing Sylvia, her partner of 45 years.

Even though both had paid into Social Security for more than 50 years, Herman at the age of 73 wasn’t able to receive survivor benefits following the death of her partner, who had a greater income. While Herman was a social worker, her partner worked in business and climbed the corporate ladder.

“When she died, much to my amazement, Social Security denied me the death benefit, then Social Security refused to provide me with the survivor’s benefit,” Herman said. “These denials came even though we were legally married. They dismissed our 45 together, our 45 years of love and commitment, our 45 years of contributing to society as meaningless.”

Had she been able to receive these benefits, Herman said she would have been able to stay in her home. However, she was forced to find another place to live because the only other option would be living in her car.

LGBT advocates also railed against the Social Security system for not providing gay couples the same benefits as others.

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean (right) and Linda Sanchez (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lorri Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, said same-sex couples pay into Social Security with every paycheck, but are unable to reap the full benefits of the system.

“Every single month, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center provides programs and services to thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors,” Jean said. “Too many come because they have been denied Social Security benefits.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, commended Sanchez for introducing the legislation and emphasized Social Security’s effectiveness at being “one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the nation’s history.”

“The Social Security Equality Act begins to give same-sex couples the dignity they deserve and the financial security they desperately need,” Carey said. “In a time of flat income for most Americans and disappearing pensions, it is absolutely vital for the government to protect our most vulnerable.”

Michael Adams, executive director of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, also stressed the need for the bill as a way to help LGBT elders.

“Whether it’s our LGBT community or our community as a whole, our elders are our pioneers,” Adams said. “They are the people who led the way for us, and the fact that in 2012, we are still having this argument over whether LGBT elders would be treated with dignity and respect and tolerance is outrageous.”

Adams said most seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income, and LGBT elders need Social Security even more because they’re more likely to be living in poverty than opposite-sex couples. Additionally, Adams said LGBT elders are more likely to live single in their old age, and one-third of single elders rely on Social Security for their entire retirement income.

Despite the push by advocates, movement in the Republican-controlled House is unlikely. Nonetheless, Sánchez said she’s hopeful the legislation will receive a hearing in the House Ways & Means Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the bill.

Sánchez said she hasn’t had the opportunity to have a conversation with Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) about the bill because it has just been introduced, but said “that conversation will be taking place in the near future.” The Ways & Means Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment on the measure.

The legislation is being introduced relatively late in the 112th Congress compared to other LGBT bills, which were introduced at the start of last year. Sánchez said the bill was being introduced at this time because “there were certain legislative nuances to the bill that we had to work out.”

Advocates at the news conference also said talks were underway about a Senate companion, although no one would identify any potential Senate sponsors or give an estimate on when the legislation would be introduced.

It’s unclear whether the bill would be necessary if the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex couples, were overturned, or if further revision would be needed after DOMA is lifted to ensure same-sex couples are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Sánchez said she wants to push for DOMA repeal as she advocates for the Social Security Equality Act.

“Ultimately, DOMA is an issue that we have to deal with, and the preferable route would be to repeal DOMA,” Sánchez said. “But this is one step we can make on the path to making that happen and we’re hoping that if we get the support that we need and the grassroots to have this legislation pass — because it’s such a clear case of economic discrimination — then that undermines the arguments in DOMA.”

Jean talked about the need to overturn DOMA at the same time she pushed for passage of the new legislation.

“Of course, we still need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that same-sex couples are given all of the rights that are straight brothers and sisters enjoy,” Jean said. “But until that day, the Social Security Equality Act will make a crucial difference to countless elderly people.”

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  1. Joe Bogowski

    April 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

    For nearly 30 years, the United States government has been cheating millions of Social Security recipients out of up to 60% of their EARNED benefits due to the unfair WEP and GPO laws. Bills to repeal these laws that have thrown many seniors into complete poverty are never even voted on by our cowardly congress. That’s because whenever a bill to repeal these unfair laws they are tied up in committee and never see the light of day. Our congress people whine that they can’t live on their $174,000 per year salaries, yet they have no trouble sleeping at nights when America’s senior citizens have been forced into poverty because of this nation’s corrupt Social Security laws. We can’t afford to pay seniors the benefits that they actually earned but we can afford to give away billions to foreign banks, and squander over FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  2. FAEN

    April 28, 2012 at 6:08 am

    They should push for immigration rights as well. Binational gay couples are in dire need of help.

  3. Dan

    May 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    A very important issue, becoming more so as we all age.

  4. factchcker

    May 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    While at it, fully repeal the earnings limitation from age 62 to 65 and allow claim and suspend, why tell seniors to take benefits at 62, retire, and have to wait until they are older to go back to work?

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone



NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated



(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor



First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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